On the Moral Characteristics in the Perspective of Caring Ethics


The question of what the essence of morality is has been always discussed. The existing research on moral characteristics holds that moral characteristics are altruistic, non-rigid and ideal. This paper points out the four moral characteristics of altruism, interaction, experience and consciousness in caring ethics by clarifying what are moral characteristics and by means of example, dialogue, practice and affirmation under caring ethics. Disclosing the significance to people’s moral practice and the establishment of the caring society.

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Fang, Y. (2020) On the Moral Characteristics in the Perspective of Caring Ethics. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 106-114. doi: 10.4236/jss.2020.89007.

1. What Is Moral Characteristics?

The concept of moral and moral characteristics has been discussed by philosophers. It helps us to understand what moral characteristics are. As early as ancient Greece, there was a discussion of virtue. Socrates, in his discussions with Mino on the question of whether virtue is teachable, argues that “then if virtue is an attribute of the mind and is thought to be beneficial, then it must be wisdom...” (Stephanus, 1578). Socrates demonstrated virtue as wisdom through layers of dialogue. In the view of Socrates and others, the characteristic of virtue is a kind of spiritual attribute and altruism. Moral characteristics, from the surface of the word meaning, that are, the characteristics and nature of morality. From the deep-seated meaning, moral character contains two words: moral character and character, moral character in ancient Chinese dictionary. The interpretation of “morality, morality” (Feng, 2006) in modern Chinese dictionary refers to “one of the social ideology, which is the criterion and norm of person’s common life and their behavior” (Dictionary Office, Institute of Languages, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2012). The meaning of the word character in the ancient Chinese dictionary is “special, human nature”, (Feng, 2006) in the modern Chinese dictionary means “someone or something” (Dictionary Office, Institute of Languages, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2012). Therefore, generally speaking, moral characteristics refer to the nature of morality and morality that person has in common life and behavior. From this concept, we can see that moral characteristics are embedded in the interaction of human social life, in other words, moral characteristics can be highlighted only in the Human social life interaction behavior.

2. Caring Ethics and Its Moral Elements

During the interpretation of the moral characteristics, moral reasoning can help to disclose the connotation of moral. From the perspective of caring ethics, moral education can do what to human. In ancient Greece, Socrates, Plato and others attached importance to moral reasoning. To later, Colberg put forward the theory of cognitive development, created and explained the theory of the development of moral reasoning, and thought that there were three main stages in the development of moral cognition: the stage of pre-custom, the stage of custom and the stage of post-custom. Colberg’s theory of cognitive development stage has attracted the doubts and challenges of Gilligan, Coors and others, such as Gilligan’s theory. Colberg’s theory ignores gender differences and emotional concerns. Feminists believe that Kohlberg’s principles of justice can be supplemented or even replaced by love, creating a feminist philosophical position, namely a caring principle: caring ethics. Caring ethics insists: “Ethical discussion must be made in the interaction of caring with those affected by the discussion”. The caring person does not seek the guidance of the principle, the caring person turns to the cared person (Nair, 2017). It can be seen that the principle of caring ethics may establish a caring relationship through action. Caring theorists generally recognize only one universality that describes the human situation, that is, “the commonality of birth, death, physical and emotional needs, and the expectation of being noticed” (Nair, 2017). This universality of love and recognition seems to them to be the basic starting point of caring ethics. The moral goodness of concern ethics depends on the interaction between the caring person and the cared person, rather than the individual moral subjectivity emphasized in Kant’s individualistic ethics. The major concern of caring ethics is: how to improve the human condition? And moral education is extremely important to improve human condition, so moral education is especially important to caring ethics. In other words, from the perspective of caring ethics, moral education is of great significance to the improvement of human condition. The scholars of caring ethics once pointed out: “from the point of view of caring, moral education has four important elements: example, dialogue, practice and affirmation” (Nair, 2017).

3. What Are the Moral Characteristics of Caring Ethics?

From here some elements can be found that the moral education in the field of caring ethics is full of social life interaction behavior, then the moral characteristics in the field of caring ethics are embedded in these elements. So as to find out the corresponding moral characteristics, it is necessary to deeply analyze the moral elements. Moral characteristics can be probably explored one by one.

3.1. Being Altruistic from an Example

Under the caring ethics, the role model education mainly points to the growth of the children who are caring person and cared person. Caring theorists emphasize the purpose of showing caring in their own actions and the meaning of caring in their relationship with children, rather than telling children directly or allowing them to show what caring is by reading textbooks on the subject directly. In the view of the caring theorists, the important aspect of the display of caring comes from the role of the caring person as an example to the children being cared for. From the field of occurrence, the field of positive effect produced by example is not from the field of moral reasoning, but from the field of interaction between the caring and the caring. However, focusing on example education is not the patent of caring theorists. As early as the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China, there was a discussion on example education. Laozi, the founder of Chinese Taoism, once said in the Book of Ethics, “Beauty can be a city, respect can add person” (Lao, 2017). Lao Tzu means that the language of praise can be used to trade, and noble behavior can be applied to person, so that person gets good influence. Beauty words and respect deeds reflect Laozi’s treatment of words and deeds. The attitude of the department, that is, teaching is more important than words. In Laozi’s view, beautiful words as words and deeds are only used to trade, that is, a dialogue between person and the world, and respect as an invisible caring can give person a more powerful influence, it highlights the role of example education behavior, showing moral altruism. Therefore, moral altruism can be produced from the behavior of moral example under caring. Altruism is the most important kernel of moral character and the fundamental sign that moral problems are different from other problems (Peng, 2018). Moral altruism has its own shadow, both in reality and in history. On today’s moral teachings Yu, the socialist core values we advocate are: prosperity, democracy, civilization, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, friendliness. Whether advocated civilization, harmony, or integrity, friendly, are conducive to the existence of other ideas. The core qualities we emphasize in the development of Chinese students refer to the essential qualities and key abilities that students should possess, which can meet the needs of lifelong development and social development, including three aspects: cultural foundation, independent development and social participation, humanistic background, scientific spirit, learning, healthy life, responsibility bearing, practical innovation, six, humanistic accumulation, humanistic feelings 18 basic points: aesthetic taste, rational thinking, critical questioning, daring to explore, learning well, diligent reflection, information consciousness, cherishing life, sound personality, self-management, social responsibility, national identity, international understanding, labor consciousness, problem solving and technology application. The key points of these students’ development of core literacy especially emphasize the importance of students’ participation in learning, labor, management and social activities, and the altruism of moral behavior activities displayed behind the activities, as small as individual partners around them, as large as collective and state. On the contrary, the history of human moral development, moral altruism experienced from passive altruism to active altruism. The scope of altruistic behavior expands over time. The altruistic behavior of morality is embodied in the combination of nature and sociality as the subjective individual, which depends on the characteristics of human beings with the division of animals, that is, “Man is the unity of nature and sociality. Moral altruism is the social expression of human beings, but it also has the root of nature” (Yi & Huang, 2015). In ancient Rome, educators attached great importance to the cultivation of teachers’ good moral character to children’s eloquentists. As Kun Tae-Liang once pointed out, education has a great effect on the cultivation of children’s good virtue, he believes: “Virtue, though it also obtains from nature Power, it still needs education to make it a reality” (Wu, 1999). Kun Tae-Liang insists that the cultivation of children’s virtue depends more on the strength of education. In addition, Kun Tae-Liang pointed out that children can see good or bad behavior every day when they are educated in school. In his view, good behavior inspires children, bad behavior warns children, and the important condition to ensure that children’s model learning occurs is the intervention of teachers. Kun Tae-Liang believes that teachers must first have good virtue, and then guide children with their pure virtue to cultivate children’s good virtue. It can be seen that the exemplary moral behavior in school education in Kun’s eyes is Altruistic. In the modern period of China, model education is also very important, such as educator Tao Xing-Zhi in a letter to Yucai in Chongqing, said: “You sent to borrow clothes, I check one by one, only Yan Zhao-Hua can return the clothes. How worthy it is to be learned!” (Tao, 1981). Tao Xing-zhi hoped that the children would follow the example of Yan Zhao-Hua, because Yan Zhao-Hua used his actions to convey the virtue of borrowed things should be returned intact, to enhance the satisfaction and reassurance of the borrower, and to have a good whipping effect on everyone.

3.2. Interactive from Dialogue

Caring ethics emphasizes the role of dialogue. In the view of caring theorists, dialogue is a special way for caring person to show caring to the loved ones, and dialogue is an important part of caring. From the standpoint of caring, “dialogue is very important in moral education, and it is a means to evaluate the effectiveness of our caring efforts” (Nair, 2017). For the caring person, dialogue is an important way for them to understand the situation of the cared person and to act selectively effectively. Feedback from the cared person obtained through dialogue can help the caring person’s efforts, and the realization of this effort can promote the growth of the cared person. The existentialist horse Ding Bubber sees that dialogue is the encounter between me and you in the spirit, and this spiritual encounter is a dialogue relationship. In addition to my relationship with you, in the relationship between man and the world, there is my relationship with it, Bubber believes that in its world talent can survive, “man can not survive without it, but only by it the survival of the person no longer human” (Martin, 1986). But man is not just content with his world, he is in the world beyond it, and into the constant pursuit of your world. In the view of critical education theorist Paul Flere, dialogue is “human contact, mediated by the world, designed to name the world” (Paul, 2001). Dialogue has become an important way for person to name the world, that is, to transform the world to gain the meaning of being human, and Freire points out that dialogue takes place between person who wants to use the right to speak to name the world. It can be seen that dialogue exists as a relationship, which points to the interaction between the subject and object of the relationship, so the dialogue can generate interactivity. As early as ancient Greece, dialogue was regarded as the main method of moral education. Socrates’ “midwifery” is known for asking questions and talking. It is by asking questions constantly that Socrates helps the other person to get the correct answer to the question, abstracting the essence from the concrete things and producing the general from the individual things Concept such a path to seek knowledge and truth, this path occurs in the field of human dialogue. This can be fully proved, both in the deeds and words of Socrates’ life, and in many of his student Plato’s works, such as in the Republic: “Sue: is there something we call ‘opinion’? GE: Yes. Sue: Is it the same ability as knowledge or another? GE: Another ability. Sue: Because opinions and knowledge are different abilities, they must have different stakeholders. GE: There must be” (Plato, 1986). In ancient times In China, dialogue is the main way for moral theorists to lecture. Confucius often talks with his disciples about life and learning ethics. From the Analects of Confucius, we can find a large number of dialogue quotations, such as learning and the dialogue between Neutron Gong and Confucius: “Zi Gong said: ‘poor without flattery, rich without pride, so what?’” The Master said, “Yes. If not poor and happy, rich and good also.” Zi Gong said, “The poem says, ‘If you learn from each other, if you cut it like a mill.’” Confucius said: “Give also, can only then with the words ‘poem’ already, tell the past and know” (Yang, 2012). Dialogue was accepted by more person at the time The interactive effects of dialogue can be more direct than other ways are inseparable, perhaps implying the existence of social ethics behind the dialogue. So, whether in the West or in the East, the role of dialogue is to build a bridge of communication, to build mutual learning and interaction. From a caring point of view, the main function of dialogue is to enhance the acceptance of others and the reflection on their own practice, this process of acceptance and reflection is interactive. Therefore, moral education under caring ethics is interactive.

3.3. Experience from Practice

Practice, as one of the elements of moral education, is highly regarded by caring theorists. Caring theorists believe that children need to participate with adults in the practice of caring, and reflect from the practice, children will learn how to care for others. The practice in the field of caring is a kind of reflective practice, which is the reflection of children to participate in the practice of caring. In Dewey’s view, “thinking or reflection is to identify the relationship between what we try and what happens” (Dewey, 1990). It can be seen that Dewey’s understanding of thinking or reflection is an effort to discover the relationship between practice and results, including The practice of thinking factors can produce meaningful experience. Therefore, Dewey attaches great importance to reflection or thinking in experience. Caring ethics also emphasizes children’s reflection on their own caring practice or the cultivation of thinking ability. In the view of caring theorists, an important prerequisite for children to care for others is that children already have the ability to think or reflect, and the source of developing children’s ability to think or reflect lies in their participation in caring practices with adults. In other words, the practical pursuit of caring ethics is the construction and reflection of children’s subjective experience, which coincides with the reflective thinking advocated by Dewey. And then it is said that the practice under caring ethics is the emergence of children’s caring experience, which is reflected in children’s moral education. The goal of caring theorists is that children construct reflective experience consciousness through participating in caring practice. Therefore, we can say that moral practice under caring ethics can generate experience, that is, morality under caring ethics has empirical characteristics. So here comes the question: don’t other ethical practices produce experience? Or is it that other ethics have no empirical characteristics? We already know that moral practices under caring ethics focus on reflection or thinking if we have enough The question will be answered if moral practice under other ethics focuses or does not focus on reflection or thinking. At least in Kant’s view, moral self-discipline can not be changed as a rule, and the moral practice under such ethics is enforcing norms, and children’s reflective ability is difficult or can not be improved. From this perspective, the fact that moral practice under caring ethics can achieve the improvement of children’s reflective ability is more obvious. In addition, the formation of meaningful experience also depends on the correct theoretical guidance, and the theory itself comes from practice or accepts the test of practice, therefore, moral education based on the basis of practice can produce empirical knowledge, which will be constantly tested and corrected in practice. Caring theorists use caring theory to explain the practice of participating in caring, and constantly enrich their own caring theory in caring practice. The process of perfecting this theory is the practical result of caring moral education, that is, empirical result. Therefore, experience becomes a major characteristic of morality under caring ethics.

3.4. Self-Consciousness from Affirmation

Caring ethics plays a positive role in expressing concern through the affirmation of the person being cared person for. In Martin Bubber’s view, it must be an act that recognizes and encourages the best qualities of others. Bobo points out that recognition and encouragement of others can be the discovery and development of a better self, that is, when we show recognition of others, we increase our understanding of others and ourselves, and learn to care for others and ourselves. Neil Noddings points out that affirmation holds us up, and that it moves step by step towards a better picture of ourselves, and from this point of view, Noddings agrees with Bubber that affirmation of others can be made Better self now. At the same time, Noddings also pointed out that “there is definitely a need for trust and continuity” (Nair, 2017). In Noddings’ view, the affirmation of others is a kind of trust in others, and the affirmation of continuity is because we need to know others through the continuous affirmation of others. Caring theorists focus on establishing, maintaining and advancing the relationship of caring, which they think is the inevitable requirement of moral life guided by caring ethics. In other words, the moral education under caring ethics needs the establishment and maintenance of caring relationship, and the establishment and maintenance of caring relationship depend on the positive role. With the constant affirmation of the loved one, can enough to inspire the behavior consciousness of the cared person. The effect of this affirmative action is similar to that of behaviorism, in which learning is a link between stimulus and response. By giving the recipient a specific stimulus, it leads to a specific response from the recipient of the action. The recipient of the action is constantly responding, the recipient of the action is constantly reacting, the cycle is repeated, and finally learning is produced. The principle of learning advocated by behaviorism is a conditioned reflex based on animal instinct, which we can fully understand from Watson’s theory of behavioral psychology. In Watson’s view, learning is in. completed in the interaction with the environment, in addition, Watson also believes that personality can be changed because it is formed by the influence of the environment; so the way to change personality is to change the environment in which person lives. However, the result is similar to that of constructivism. In the view of constructivists, learning is the active construction process of learners’ own meaning and understanding based on their original knowledge and experience, which is completed in social and cultural interaction. The learner’s knowledge is acquired through the construction of meaning through the help of others in certain situations, such as cooperation between person, communication, use of necessary information and so on The ideal learning environment should include four parts: situation, collaboration, communication and meaning construction. Constructivism originates from Piaget’s theory of children’s cognitive development. In Piaget’s view, children’s cognitive development has experienced four stages: perceptual movement, pre-operation, concrete operation and formal operation. The cognitive development of children is closely related to the learning process, so using constructivism can better clarify the cognitive law of human learning process, that is, it can better explain how learning occurs, how meaning is constructed, and how concepts are formed. Behaviorism and constructivism learning principles have a common goal, that is, to study how to contribute to learning. The principle of behaviorist learning emphasizes the leading role of teachers, ensures students’ acceptance of knowledge, and the principle of constructivist learning emphasizes teachers’ positive guidance and affirmation to students, thus helping students to construct their own meaning actively. Caring ethics aims to promote the behavior consciousness of the person concerned and the person affirmed through the caring and affirmation of the person concerned. Reflected in moral education, through the continuous affirmation of the subject’s moral behavior, so as to promote the subject’s moral behavior consciousness. Therefore, morality under caring ethics is self-conscious.

All in all, the moral characteristics in the perspective of caring ethics include altruism, interactivity, experience and self-consciousness, which not only reflect the caring from caring person and interaction with the cared person, but also show the self-consciousness of the behavior between the caring person and the concerned and the active construction of their own meaning. Under the caring ethics, the caring person is not only himself, but also a member of the caring community with the caring person. The moral behavior is not only altruistic, but also the reconstruction and sharing of moral experience. The moral characteristics under caring ethics highlight the dual role of externalization of moral behavior and internalization of moral ethics, and provide the possibility to promote the reflection on the moral behavior of citizens in civil society.

4. What Is the Significance of the Moral Characteristics of Caring Ethics?

Here, the moral characteristics from caring ethics have been explored. It has dual significance from both society and practice.

From society, the explanation of the moral characteristics can help us know the significance of the moral. People know how to obey the moral regulation and how to live with others in a whole society. What’s more, people get to know the characteristics and strengths of the moral further after they stood and understood the caring ethics. People would like to make friends with others and live with others in a harmony relationship. Caring ethics can absolutely play a role in directing people to deal with the relationship with others. In other words, people can have the capacity to learn to care others and keep in touch with others still in harmony environment. Under caring ethics, people absolutely would like to care others and keep a caring relationship with others. If everyone can learn to care others, then the society will be better and warmer better than we imagine. A caring society full of order and harmony can also be established. People will keep their moral quality in caring society.

From practice, the exploration of the moral characteristics from the perspective of caring ethics can lead people to put what they learned into practice. Taking action will be more and more important for people to absorb the connotation of moral characteristics. As people always say, the only criteria to check whether the truth is true or not is practice. Caring ethics told people that caring others is a big deal. If someone learns to care others, the opposite will also work. People will experience love and being loved during the caring process, which is good for their growth. Now, caring others is gradually happening in schools, where children would like to participate in caring practice. By this way, people learn to care others and experience caring. Those who are cared in different kinds of contexts would be actively accepted. Therefore, a warm society where people care each other can be established totally. Also, caring practice will break up the former fixed society condition and make more flexible society come true, that is absolutely the contribution to society progress.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


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